Bogolanfini (also known as Bogolan or mud cloth) is a fabric indigenous to Mali in West Africa. Although made and used by many ethnic groups in this country the designs made by the Bambana people are the ones which have the most international recognition.
The finished fabric is found in two forms mass produced and manufactured for a tourist market and for fashion designers or completely handmade by artisans and crafts people. Handmade Bogolan starts out as hand spun cotton which is then woven to produce narrow strips of material. The material is then hand sewn together before it goes through a series of extensive dying processes.
The fabric is rendered using a resistance dying technique but is first soaked in a substance called n’gallama. This is a brown liquid produced from pounded leaves which gives the originally white cotton fabric a distinctive yellow base colour. Once it has been soaked in this solution it is left to dry before the application of the mud design.
Bogolanfini tends to have very characteristic designs and patterns which are traditionally in a variation of yellows, browns, black and white. To get these colours mud, also known as argil, is harvested from ponds and rivers in northern Mali and left to ferment in covered clay jars for one year. The chemical process which occurs between the mud and the clay jars causes the mud to become colour fast on the fabric.
The outlines of the design are painted first using the mud and then the background is filled in. The fabric is then washed off removing any excess mud before the whole process of soaking in the n’gallama solution and dying with mud is repeated. The design is then completed by bleaching the uncovered yellow areas back to being white.
Even though it may seem laborious to start with white fabric and dye it only to bleach it white again, this process is said to be necessary for the correct chemical reactions to take place in the dying process.
Each design is mean to t tell a story as no two handmade design are ever thought to be the same. Certain designs and motifs are said to have protective attributes for the wearer.
Although very labour intensive Bogolanfini is a very popular fabric and has been used in fashion clothing, accessories and interiors by many designers including Chris Seydou and Oscar de la Renta.